Red State Of Mind - Part Five
Posted on Sunday January 9, 2011, 19:13 by James White in Empire States
Empire attends Kevin Smith’s filmmaking Q&A series - Part Five: Michael Angarano
Described by Kevin Smith as "more or less the hero of the picture," Michael Angarano might be most familiar for his roles in the likes of Almost Famous, Sky High, Forbidden Kingdom, and, more recently, Gentleman Broncos.
From the off, Smith had Angarano rattle off some of his more famous co-stars, with the 23-year-old recalling working with Meryl Streep, Wes Craven, Angela Bassett and more. That, and "dozens" of commercials, and a role in New York's Radio City Hall Christmas show, which saw him playing Tiny Tim.
He also revealed that he simply can't cry in auditions, but mentioned that his father proved useful on that front by exposing him to The Deer Hunter, which gets to Angarano every time. In terms of rehearsals, he recalled working with Cameron Crowe on Almost Famous, figuring out how to share mannerisms and voice ticks with Patrick Fugit, since the pair played the same role at different ages.
At the age of 11, Angarano moved from the East Coast to Los Angeles to continue his career while also trying to maintain his education, a tough call since he remembers being badly behind thanks to the amount of acting work he was scoring. Talking of scoring, Smith (naturally) asked if his acting career helped him pick up girls in High School, though Angarano claimed it was more of a dry spell than anything else.
Despite the profile it gave him, Angarano also remembers that Sky High was a concern for him when he first got the part, as the original script was simply not funny. Convinced that he wasn't going to sell out, the then-14-year-old actor balked at doing Disney channel-style work. "Not that there's anything wrong with that," laughed Angarano. "But when Sky High came along, there was a moment where I collapsed on to my knees and asked 'Do I have to?' But I met everybody and the director did a really great thing - they had writers from The Simpsons and other really great shows do punch-ups on it. He made the movie what it is." While Angarano is quick to praise Sky director Mike Mitchell, he remembered Red State co-star (and friend) Nicholas Braun having an issue when he refused one of Braun's hairstyle requests. For the record, Angarano does a good Braun impersonation...
Fun for Angarano is a big consideration on set, all tied to feeling creatively tied to the film and having the freedom to get the job done. "For the most part, the jobs where you're having fun and it's a really easy set to be on are the films that turn out well." Smith used that to link to one of Angarano's more recent jobs, working with Steven Soderbergh on Haywire. "It's right in between his very experimental, low-budget indie movies and the Ocean's films. It's going to be Steven's version of a Bourne movie, with MMA fighter Gina Carano in the lead," explained Angarano. "It was very experimental, and all my work was with Gina. She had great instincts and it was really interesting to watch because she had fighter instincts." Soderbergh gave Angarano the freedom to explore his role, except for one moment where the actor wanted to spend the entire film with gauze wrapped around one arm... Talking about the director, Smith recalls a story he was told about Soderbergh casually slipping a fellow filmmaker a DVD which turned out to be the man's movie entirely re-cut by Soderbergh after he got bored. "The guy loves creating," said Angarano. "He wants to retire from movies and paint."
Switching to talk Red State, Smith remarked that Angarano was the only actor he sat down with before production began, having met Nick Braun and Kyle Gallner set, praising the three for what they brought to the roles. "Michael is the fastest human being I think I've met," said Smith, comparing the actor to Barry Allen, AKA The Flash for a scene where he had to run.
After Smith opened up the session to the crowd for questions, Angarano was asked what his first impressions of the script were, and when he first saw it. "I saw the script after I had known I got the part," he said. "I had auditioned with the sides, so that for me seemed very Kevin Smith-esque, it's three kids talking about sex. I had spoken with Deb Aquila about what the film would be, because you could tell that it was going to get nuts. And she said, 'It has a message.' 'What kind of message?' 'It's a very important film...' So I was expecting something along those lines when I got the script at 1:30am and had finished it by 2:15am. It was that quick of a read. Ever since I got the role, I'd been imagining where it could go and then I read it and put it down and said, 'all right... I'll sleep on it.' I didn't completely get it at first." But Angarano knew he had to do it. "It's different than what Kevin has done before, but similar in that it has great dialogue."
"It's a pretty tight blueprint," revealed Smith, "But you guys added things to it that I loved. Everyone took it seriously. It's a horror movie, but it has an amazing cast that is acting their asses off. It's crazy how performance-orientated the piece is, it's kind of like porn for actors."
"We set out to make unsettling, that was the key watchword," said the director. "Because if it's unsettling throughout, the sum total of that has to be an avalanche of the heebie-jeebies. We were able to do that - each scene is a little bit unsettling and that collectively builds it up. But it helped that you guys play it as human beings rather than people the audience wants to see punished."
For his part, Angarano recalls that first talk with Smith. "We said that this could be good if it's handled naturally and very simply, and it's going to be a really scary movie. Because where the movie goes, if the first part is strong enough, it's not that far-fetched, as crazy as it gets. That's what's scary. When I read it, I thought it doesn't follow the formula or the rules, it's a different version of this sort of film. And Kevin told me he wrote it in four days!"
"I wasn't even a stoner in those days," Smith quipped. "It was interesting directing the last movie I'd written before becoming a stoner." Smith talked about how he used to roll in late every day to set, but not before having informed first assistant director Adam Druxman and director of photography David Klein on his plans so they could set up each shot before he arrived. To balance out his guilt over being late, Smith would bring cut footage every day to let his cast and crew know he was doing work outside of the shoot. "What's cool about that is most directors don't do it at all," said Angarano. "Not many are as confident. The whole entire crew would sometimes be crowded around this laptop to watch scenes and everybody would be into it."
When asked what he's learned from other actors, Angarano commented that he never wanted to directly approach co-stars to ask for tips when he was young. "It's just very apparent when you work with brilliant actors that there's some great secret," he says. "There's a very inspiring story that happened to me when I was 14 or 15. One of my favourite movies growing up was Back to the Future - all of them. I love everything about them. If I ever call any actor influential or inspiring to me early on, Michael J Fox was my role model. He was everything I wanted to be. I auditioned for a hockey sitcom he was doing and I got to meet him. To me that was like meeting an idol. I was able to meet him in the waiting room and he spent 10 minutes with me, which is your first sign he was a great guy. A lot of people, and it sucks to hear this, but they'll wait in the audition room and you won't see them until you go in. He did everything that a person would do to meet or exceed your expectations. He sat down with me and so shy and so nervous. But he made me feel so comfortable. I felt sure I'd get the role. I ended up auditioning for the network the day after and it was very stressful. He hugged me after, and I could feel like I wasn't actually getting the role! It's hard to accept, because it's very personal and at the same time impersonal." Fox sent Angarano a letter afterwards reassuring him that he'd done just fine even though he didn't win the role.
Talk then turned to Angarano's horse-centric mishap on the Jackie Chan/Jet Li film Forbidden Kingdom. "I'm glad you brought it up," laughed Angarano. "It was a crazy experience and when I got it, I figured it would be tough. I didn't think it would be an actorly piece necessarily, but I figured it would be a huge opportunity. It ended up being 103 days of filming in China. The whole time. It was a non-English-speaking crew and me. Say what you want about the movie, but I'm just thrilled it turned out as a film. There were days where I had no idea what we were doing. The stunt co-ordinator, the legendary Woo-Ping Yuen would be, like, 'Michael! Less power! Also... Almost die.' It's one piece of direction he gave me. I didn't have a stunt double until the last 20 days of filming and he didn't look like me at all. One day I found myself running through a bamboo forest with a horse chasing me. And there's this little opening where I have to fall and the guy on the horse has to grab this staff out of my hand. So I fall too early and the horse tramples me. It didn't hurt, and it looked like it hurt. They showed me right after, and there was complete silence on the set. You hear the bamboo growing. The director then really carefully made his way to me. 'Michael... Are you hurt?' I was, like, 'No. But the horse just trampled me and I want everyone to know that.'" Sadly for him, it didn't make either the movie or the outtakes, so the scene isn't preserved for posterity.
The session finished up with Michael talking about David Gordon Green's working style, which prompted Kevin to recall Green commenting about him and Clerks. "He was asked whether I've raised the bar and he said, 'Kevin Smith lowered the bar and took independent film to a kind of special Olympics.' I thought that was kind of funny. I wanted to me mad, but I liked it." Green, who is a friend of Angarano, has apparently since declared that Kevin is making more interesting choices now, but that didn't stop Smith from commenting about Green's Your Highness. "I saw the trailer, which looks like a $90 million film with a CGI snake in it. And I was, like, 'Who's the non-indie bitch now, man?!' Death comes for us all, doesn't it, David Gordon Green?"
For a chance to hear everything, point your browsers and your ears towards the Red State Of The Union podcast.